Leadership Toolkit

Return to Learn: Organizational Excellence execution and improvement

Studer Education Coaching Team

In the first of our reentry toolkits, Leading a Successful Reentry to Achieve Organizational Excellence, we began with these words:

In “normal” times when things are relatively predictable, strong leadership is desired. When unpredictable times appear, strong leadership is essential. Even the strongest organizational structures bring tremendous challenges that impact results. Our old way of doing business simply will not work.

These times call for leaders to be aligned and tight in their approaches to manage uncertainties and change. Now, more than ever, we need to attend to our core business: ensuring that students have every opportunity to learn and succeed.

Regardless of the changing dynamics we experience, we are responsible for providing excellent service to students and their families and ensuring them educational excellence.

With uncertainty and change, some things remain constant. Our overall goals are:

  1. Students continue a positive learning trajectory
  2. Students and employees are safe
  3. Employees, students, and their families have confidence that students are on track and safe

To support leaders and teams in achieving these goals, the Organizational Excellence Execution and Improvement Toolkit provides resources aligned to creating a scorecard, using a scorecard to apply a short-cycle improvement process, and turning meetings into improvement conversations. This toolkit provides resources for deploying an execution and improvement process that aligns measures, actions, input, results and conversations to determine areas working well and those needing improvements to achieve the three overall educational goals.

We hope the resources in this toolkit help leaders and teams achieve the three goals and achieve organizational excellence during these uncertain times and beyond. Our hope is that by applying the approach presented in this toolkit, we make the execution and improvement process a habit of practice.

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The first step to apply an execution and improvement process is to create a scorecard. A scorecard is the vehicle for visually aligning measures of goal attainment as we execute our plans for successful results. A scorecard has a measure and a targeted goal. To create a scorecard, we define the focus for improvement by choosing pillars, then create the “measures that matter” for each of the pillars to drive outcomes. The measures we include on the scorecard are key to driving organizational success. They represent key metrics that drive our strategy and overall performance.

We use dashboards to take an in-depth view of our organization’s operations. Typically, our dashboards track daily metrics that show us how well teams are doing on their specific functional responsibilities.


A dashboard tracks daily metrics for buses having on-time pickups and drop-offs. Teaching faculty in classrooms track daily attendance for each student so that they know how to engage with a student and a family if the student is absent from class. There are dashboard measures aligned to the reentry plan that departments track to determine how well they are implementing the work tasks associated with their unit responsibilities.

Let’s look at an example of how a scorecard and dashboard differ:


To support leaders and teams, we also have other toolkits that provide additional resources to complement those outlined in this toolkit.


A scorecard may include student attendance and take an aggregate count on a weekly to monthly basis. When there is a downward trend in overall attendance, the leadership team may go to the dashboard for tracking metrics and review by school and by classroom to understand where the problem lies. Therefore, a dashboard informs decisions aligned to the “measures that matter” to help identify where problems are occurring. The dashboard does not have a targeted value toward a goal; rather, the dashboard tracks data trends that teams use to determine how well their processes are working.

This toolkit describes how to create a scorecard, align strategic actions to “measures that matter,” and apply a short-cycle improvement process.


Download the PDF version of this toolkit to track your progress, share with your team and access fillable templates for each tool as you initiate the practices in your organization.


Section 1

Create a Scorecard to Use as Part of an Improvement Process

In this section, we summarize and provide examples of the scorecard components that set the stage for engaging in improvement conversations with leaders and teams. This section includes defining pillars, creating aligned “measures that matter,” and aligning strategic actions to achieve the outcomes associated with the “measures that matter.”

A scorecard is used to compare current performance on “measures that matter” at a certain point to an overall goal. We refer to the “measures that matter” as key measures that help us know how to make strategic decisions to achieve overall goals. We create few, yet powerful measures that predict and define the overall success of the organization. Therefore, “measures that matter” provide us with information that is timely and actionable.

A scorecard with “measures that matter” is a useful tool for managing strategy and performance – determining what’s working well, what’s not working and where we need to improve. Therefore, we use the results on the scorecard to determine how well a specific team is executing to the plan to achieve key results. We can then use the team’s performance to identify areas for improvement.

Define the Pillars

The scorecard is developed to analyze specific foundational areas of the organization. We call these foundational areas on the scorecard, pillars. In this toolkit we provide a sample scorecard and have identified four pillars at the forefront for reentry execution. The four pillars, definitions for each and several associated measurable areas are provided.


Pillar Definition Sample Measurable Areas
Student Success Student success is determined by academic achievement in class as well as a student’s level of engagement with the teacher and peers, the timeliness of students doing their school and homework to stay on track, and their level of confidence in their learning.
  • Student assessment
  • Student achievement in reading
  • Student persistence (on-time assignment completions)
Stakeholder Confidence In this difficult time, schools can take specific actions to reduce employees’, students’ and families’ anxieties and build their confidence that students can continue to be successful in school. Information and resources related to this pillar is provided in the Stakeholder Input Toolkit (October 2020).


  • Employee pulse surveys
  • Student pulse surveys
  • Parent/Family pulse surveys
  • Employee attendance
  • Student attendance
Safety There are multiple actions within units that focus on student and employee safety. The goal is to select an aggregate measure or a specific measure that indicates safety levels for students, employees and people coming on campus.
  • Student safety measure
  • Employee safety measure
  • On-campus customer safety measures
Service Excellence During this time of reentry and continued schooling, it is critical for departments and units to provide excellent operational services. It is also important for educational systems to provide excellent service to students and their families that directly affects stakeholder confidence.

Create the “Measures that Matter” for the Pillars to Drive Outcomes

We recommend using a scorecard structure to track the organizational results every 30 days. We provide a sample scorecard with sample “measures that matter.” You may have some measures like those in the scorecard in this toolkit. You could include other measures that are more pressing for your situation. The key is to define measures that predict how well leaders and teams will perform on the overall organizational outcome measures and that leaders and teams can influence with their actions.


We do not want students to drop out of school and are interested in the overall retention rate as an outcome that shows how well our organization is doing. To drive toward this outcome, we elect to include percent of students completing assignments on time or making passing grades in high-failure-rate courses.

The sample scorecard in this toolkit includes four pillars, the “measures that matter” written in relation to a targeted goal and 30-, 60- and 90-day results check points scored at above or at goal (green), making progress (yellow), or below goal (red). The results are used to determine what is working and where improvements are needed. It gives us an opportunity to harvest wins and determine ways to improve on areas where we are falling short.

Routines keep us grounded but they don’t necessarily help us get through the day with purpose and meaning. We may find ourselves moving from one task to the other with little meaning attached to the work we are doing. In a crisis, we may be doing any given task more often than during our regular workday. We have passion for our work, yet the crisis is so overwhelming that we become tired and feel hopeless. With the right communication approach by executive leaders, employees gain a higher level of purpose during a crisis.


Pillar Sample Measure Items (Determine the Best Measures for Your Situation) 30-Day Results 60-Day Results 90-Day Results
For each measure, rate:
GREEN (at or above goal), YELLOW (making progress but not at goal), RED (well below goal)
Student Success Percent of students achieving 80% or higher on daily work G/Y/R? G/Y/R? G/Y/R?
Percent of students reading on grade level to a stated goal G/Y/R? G/Y/R? G/Y/R?
Percent of students completing school assignments on-time to a stated goal G/Y/R? G/Y/R? G/Y/R?
Students pacing to on-time, on-grade level progression to completion/graduation.” (90% to 95% benchmark) G/Y/R? G/Y/R? G/Y/R?
Stakeholder Confidence Employee survey rating to a stated goal at 30 days and 90 days G/Y/R? G/Y/R? G/Y/R?
Student survey rating to a stated goal at 30 days and 90 days G/Y/R? G/Y/R? G/Y/R?
Parent survey rating to a stated goal at 30 days and 90 days G/Y/R? G/Y/R? G/Y/R?
Employee attendance to a stated goal G/Y/R? G/Y/R? G/Y/R?
Student attendance to a stated goal G/Y/R? G/Y/R? G/Y/R?
Safety Ensure cleaning protocols are completed 100% of the time G/Y/R? G/Y/R? G/Y/R?
Ensure employee and student daily entry protocols are completed 100% of the time G/Y/R? G/Y/R? G/Y/R?
Service Excellence Survey rating by internal stakeholders on level of services provided by units to a stated goal G/Y/R? G/Y/R? G/Y/R?
Percentage of down time of technology system to a stated industry goal G/Y/R? G/Y/R? G/Y/R?

Align Strategic Actions to the “Measures that Matter”

A strategy is how the ends are achieved with the means that we have. It involves actions and decisions we make to reach our goals. Once the scorecard is complete, use the scorecard to drive an improvement process to determine the few, yet mighty, actions that guide leaders and teams to achieve the “measures that matter.” Each measure will have an executive who owns the strategic actions.

Here are a few examples of strategic actions:

  • For the measure associated with students completing assignments on-time, an educational system could implement an action where students who turn in 2 late assignments a week are reviewed by a designated individual each week and assigned to someone to make student/parent phone calls or text connections to determine why the assignments are turned in late and what needs to occur to get a positive outcome.
  • For the measures associated with stakeholder confidence, the educational system could apply our “rounding” approach where employees, students and their parents receive connections from leaders or employees. The rounding process focuses on connecting with individuals to determine how they are doing, areas they believe are working well, areas needing improvements and barriers they are facing, and people who have been helpful. An explanation of the rounding process is provided in the toolkit, Gaining Stakeholder Input to Continuously Improve our Service to Others (October 2020).

The framework for an improvement process is now in place. The scorecard and the strategic actions set the stage for applying a short-cycle improvement process that builds agility and strength in leaders to manage change.

Section 2

Apply a Short-Cycle Improvement Process

People typically do not like change. When we face change, we shift out of our comfort zones. A crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, forces us to change the way we do our “normal” business. We are traveling in uncharted territories responding to questions without confident answers. Therefore, most everything we do can be improved. When we apply a continuous improvement process with fidelity, we hold this same mindset. We never see things as a status quo. We work on change each day to make incremental changes that add up to sizable changes over time. This section provides a short-cycle improvement process that guides us on how to manage change by turning obstacles into opportunities.

In this toolkit, we focus on improvements that are determined through measurement. So far, we have summarized how to establish scorecard measures and goals and create strategic actions to achieve the goals. We now apply a short-cycle improvement process to determine how well our actions are working to achieve the goal. We engage our core team in a short-cycle review process to determine changes we need to make to continuously adjust and get better.

In this section, we provide an overview and resources for weekly short cycle improvement meetings, 30-day short cycle improvement meetings, and a 30-, 45-, and 60-day improvement cycle template.

Weekly Short Cycle Improvement Meetings

Our goal is to track core “measures that matter” each week to determine how we are trending on a weekly basis toward the goal. We apply a “stop light” approach for each goal. The owner of the measure records the progress for the week to date and scores the outcomes green (on track), yellow (making progress but not where we want to be), and red (falling behind).

  • Using a shared digital template (Microsoft OneNote, Google Docs, etc.), record the “measures that matter” and owners for each outcome. The owners record a weekly measurable result and code it green, yellow, or red.
  • Ask the owners to complete the information in the template 24 hours in advance of the weekly meeting.

For example, for the same assignment completion goal, the owner of this goal would complete the weekly “stop light.”


Weekly Result Year-to-Date Results Green/Yellow/Red
90% of students will complete assignments on time 72% 75%

Spend time harvesting the wins for areas that are green. Recognize team members who have contributed to positive results and communicate why particular actions are working. When reviewing yellows, focus on those yellows that continue to trend in a declining direction. As teams focus on reds, gain high-level input from the leadership team to take back to working teams to solve. Here’s an agenda for the Weekly Short Cycle Improvement Meeting that outlines the structure for using the “stop light” tool every week:


Agenda Item Time
1. Call to Order on Time/Announcements 2 min
2. Review weekly results (measures and coded green, yellow, red) 15 min
3. Harvest the most significant wins 15 min
4. Determine most significant gaps:

  • Discuss why this is a gap
  • Discuss critical issues associated with the gap that cut across teams
  • Determine next steps needed for the working team to identify and solve the issue causing the gap
25 min
5. Summarize Next Steps 3 min

30-Day Short Cycle Improvement Meetings

At the end of 30 days, engage the leadership team in a deep dive conversation to determine if the educational system is achieving above, at, or below goal. Determine what to keep doing, stop doing, and do differently.

In this toolkit we provide questions for teams to use to engage in conversations about results. The questions are provided as well as why the question is important. The first set of questions is designed to be asked when results are trending at or above goal. The second set of questions is intended to be asked when results are trending below goal. Also, it is important to review how results trend every 30 days. Some results may continue to be on target. Others may trend up and down over time. Therefore, as teams respond to the questions, the trending results are important considerations when uncovering why actions are working or not working.


Questions to Ask to Engage Teams in Conversations
1. Engage in a discussion about the results trending at or above goal using a plus/delta with these questions:

  • PlusWhat are we confident about that is working? How do we know?
  • DeltaWhat are we wondering about? What is causing us to wonder?
Review the results and the strategic actions aligned to the results. Engage in conversations about the data and evidence that probe and support movement that is trending at or above goal. Rather than accept the movement at face value, rule out results being false positives. Underlying dashboard metrics and triangulating the results with other evidence and tacit knowledge give us more confidence in the positive results. Even when we are experiencing positive results, we can always improve. When things are going well, engage in conversations to get even better.

2. What can we learn that we want to keep doing?

From the plus/delta conversation, determine what we want to keep doing and possibly do more of. Define the areas working and communicate and train to get behaviors and actions aligned.
3. Who can we recognize that helped us move in a positive direction? Gain input on who has contributed to the positive results and specifically what they did to contribute. Then recognize them and the action so that others can learn and replicate and those that contributed feel valued.


Questions to Ask to Engage Teams in Conversations
1. Engage in a discussion about the results trending below goal using a plus/delta with these questions:

  • PlusWhat are we confident about that is working? How do we know?
  • DeltaWhat are we wondering about? What is causing us to wonder?
Review the results and the strategic actions aligned to the results. Engage in conversations about the data and evidence that are trending below goal. Review underlying dashboard metrics and triangulate results with other evidence and our hunches to gain an understanding of why we are falling short of the goal. Determine if a problem exists or if there are other factors interfering with the results. Keep from making excuses; rather, remain curious to explore why results are trending below goal.

2. What is the problem?

Based on the results of the plus/delta conversation, specifically define the problem that needs to be solved and make sure the problem has a potential solution. Create a problem statement.
3. Why is the problem occurring? Our goal is to get to the root cause of the problem. Get a team together that has first-hand experience and apply the 5 Whys or a process improvement approach to get to the root cause of the problem. When applying the 5 whys start by asking first, “why” the problem occurred. Then, as the team answers the first why, ask why that occurred, and then why that occurred and continue until the team has responded to 5 Whys.
4. What adjustments can we make to address the problem? Determine the action to take to solve the problem and map out the solution. Communicate to all involved in implementing the actions and provide any training and updated processes to ensure solid execution of the solution.
5. How will we know if the adjustments work? Adjust the strategic actions and integrate the new actions into the scorecard process along with weekly and 30-day short cycle meetings to continue monitoring progress. Showing the adjustments reinforces that the scorecard is a dynamic document and the improvement process is ongoing.

30-Day Short Cycle Improvement Meeting Agenda

For the Return to Learn reentry process, we recommend that the leadership team allocate one day a month to do a deep dive short-cycle review. In normal times, we do the deep dive as presented in this agenda every quarter. Because the stakes are high in times of constant uncertainty, attending to a tight set of strategic actions around specific “measures that matter” becomes a “have to do” rather than a “nice to do” action to execute well by continuously improving. In fact, in normal times, we advocate for leaders to consider this short cycle improvement process a “have to do.” A core part of our Studer Education work with our organizational partners is to facilitate the scorecard development process and the 30- to 90- day short cycle improvement meetings with leaders. This helps leaders stay on track and focus the work on strategic actions that get results that matter to the organization.


Agenda Item Person Responsible Time
1. Connect to Purpose Selected Team Member 5 min
2. Overview of 30-Day Results on the Scorecard Measures that Matter Executive Leader 2 hrs
3. Results by Pillar for Each Measure that Matters Owners
4. Breakout Groups by Measures that Matter or Pillars to Work through the 30-Day Short Cycle Review Questions Team Exercise 4-5 hrs
5. Summarize Areas Needing Improvements Team Presenter 1 hr
6. Select Certain Areas to Focus on for Improvements Group Discussion 30 min
7. Outline Next Steps and Actions Executive Leader 30 min

30/45/60 Day Scorecard Short Cycle Improvement Review Template

Normally, we recommend doing deep dives on the results with aligned strategic actions every quarter or 90 days. During the Return to Learn reentry process, time is more important because changes occur quickly. Therefore, we recommend that executive leadership teams do a deep dive every 30 days. From current decisions made – and as teams take deep dives at the 30-day cycle – map out anticipated 45- and 60-day actions. At the end of a 30 day cycle (three times within a quarter), engage in deep dive 30-day meetings with the core leadership team to determine what to keep doing that is working, what to stop doing that is not working and what to start doing differently to improve.

Let’s look at an example using a 30/45/60 Day Short Cycle Review Template that includes the components of the scorecard as part of the template. Connecting back to the sample scorecard in Section 1, let’s take the measure we referenced for the scorecard example. We have the pillar, the measure, the strategic action, and the 30-day result.

A leadership team engages in a short cycle process to review why the goal was missed by 15%. After going through the short cycle improvement process described in the Short Cycle Improvement Meetings of this toolkit, the leaders and teams define 30-, 45-, and 60-day improvement actions to move the results up.


Pillar Measure Strategic Actions 30-Day Results 30-Day Actions 45-Day Actions 60-Day Actions
Student Success 90% students will complete assignments on time Students who turn in 2 late assignments a week are reviewed by a designated individual each week and assigned to someone to make student/parent phone calls or text connections to determine why the assignments are turned in late and what needs to occur to get a positive outcome 75% Get a breakdown of school results to determine where major problems are to solve. Get a breakdown by school and teaching faculty within a school to learn more about why students are turning in late assignments. Provide continuous development to and solutions for teaching faculty where students are experiencing the most difficult problems. Deploy a student support approach using instructional coaches and staff to connect with teaching faculty and students who are struggling.

In this example, the 90% goal is realistic and allows for all students to be served. With this goal and strategic action, we are considering the performance of all students. That is, with the 90% goal and the aligned actions we are serving 100% of our students as we review the actions that we take at the 30-, 45-, and 60-day mark. The measures drive the right behaviors if we strategically apply an approach or process that connects to stakeholders we intend to serve.

When we apply a process, we continuously review and improve what we are doing to ensure we provide the best service to get high-performing results. Regardless of how we are delivering our services (in normal times or during a crisis), we continue to improve and strive for excellence. We always work on getting better at getting better. When we do this, we help our students and families and give our employees the greatest opportunity to be successful.

Communicating Progress throughout the Educational System

The scorecard serves as a communication tool to help employees understand what is important and where we need to focus our efforts and attention. Therefore, leaders can use the scorecard to gain buy-in and engagement in the workforce. Most employees want to contribute and add value. When they know what is important, they know how to focus their energy on productive ways to help produce positive results that matter to others we serve.

During a crisis, we experience continuous, unexpected change. It’s important for employees to hear from the executive leader about the direction the organization is going and why, the outcomes that are important, the way we will achieve the outcomes, and how people are important to helping us achieve success. Communicating the scorecard approach along with the weekly and 30-day improvement cycles keeps people engaged and informed.


For additional information on communication refer to these three toolkits:



The execution and improvement approach outlined in this toolkit is an iterative and continuous process that answers these questions:

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • What results are we trying to achieve?
  • How do we continuously review where we are so that we know what to keep doing, stop doing, and adjust what we are doing?
  • What changes can we make that will result in improvements?
  • How do we apply a system to continuously review how we are doing in areas that are most critical to organizational success?

Our ability to execute through an improvement approach creates a path toward organizational excellence.

Here’s the good news:

When we hardwire an execution and improvement approach in our organizations, we improve regardless of difficulties and uncertainties that appear. The mindset of our people is solution-focused and results-driven. Our workplace culture becomes a place where we focus on the right things throughout the entire organization to offer an excellent student experience. As we return to learn, shift the difficulties to opportunities and hardwire improvement practices that make us better at getting better, never being satisfied and always striving for excellence.


Download the PDF version of this toolkit to get fillable templates that you can print and share with your team as you use these tools.



Janet Pilcher, Ph.D. | Studer Education, Executive Leader and Managing Director

Pat Greco, Ph.D. | Studer Education, Senior Director of Thought Leadership

Nannette Johnston, M.Ed. | Studer Education, Leader Coach

Gayle Juneau-Butler, Ed.D. | Studer Education, Leader Coach

Julie Kunselman, Ph.D. | Studer Education, Director of Research and Development, Leader Coach

Robin Largue, Ed.D. | Studer Education, Director of Operations, Leader Coach

Melissa Matarazzo, Ed.D. | Studer Education, Coach Team Lead, Leader Coach

Kathleen Oropallo, Ph.D. | Studer Education, Leader Coach

Karen “KK” Owen, Ed.D. | Studer Education, Leader Coach

JoAnn Sternke, Ph.D. | Studer Education, Senior Director, Leader Coach

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